By Missoula Current

Calling suicide a public health crisis, Gov. Steve Bullock and members of the Montana Broadcasters Association on Wednesday launched a new media campaign aimed at suicide prevention, hoping to cut into the state's high rate of self-inflicted deaths.

The radio and television spots will begin airing statewide this week.

“To move the needle regarding suicide in our state, it's going to take all of us doing our part and pulling together to make a difference,” Bullock said. “These are timely and critical messages that will draw attention to an issue we all care so deeply about.”

The Montana Broadcasters Association, along with creative talent from the Montana Television Network and the Montana Radio Company, offered to produce and air the announcements for one year on the organization's 155 stations.

The total estimated value for production and air time stands at more than $200,000 when combined with donated air time from the Montana Radio Company.

MBA Board Chair Jon Saunders said its members have been heartbroken by the impact suicide has taken on Montana families. The organization waived its usual charge to prioritize the campaign in partnership with the state.

“By working together, I believe this effort will make a positive difference in our state,” Saunders said.

Montana has been at or near the top in the nation for its rate of suicide for nearly 40 years, with 555 people taking their own lives over a two-year span between 2014 and 2016. As it stands, Montana has the third highest suicide rate in the nation.

Matt Kuntz of the Montana chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Health, said the public announcements may help reveal the signs of suicide, and show that mental illness plays a major part of the state's high suicide rate.

“It’s so important that we not only become familiar with the signs of suicide, but also that we take action and help those who may not be able to help themselves,” Kuntz said.

In 2016, nearly 300 Montanans reached out for help through the state's Text Line, which offers youth access to crisis counselors. Last year also saw five “active rescues,” with an individual threatening to commit suicide or serious harm to themselves.

Kuntz said the state's Lifeline and Text Line can be important family resources. On average, about 3,300 Montanans call the Lifeline each year.

“By reaching out themselves, they can receive specific guidance on how to help a loved one,” he said. “These resources can help Montanans understand when to intervene and that there's guidance available from counselors to make sure the intervention is done in the best way possible.”